Top 10 Chemicals to Avoid in Beauty Products
On my last post I told you about the hidden dangers of beauty products. Unfortunately, the industry is poorly regulated. Allowing just about any ingredient to be used in personal and beauty products, claims of products benefits to be misleading as well as the lack of testing for the safety of products and ingredients.
There are many ingredients that aren’t safe, but I have compiled a top ten to avoid. Based on toxicity and for being found in the majority of products.
Top 10 Chemicals to avoid in Beauty
Group of chemicals called “plasticisers”. Preservatives and binders. Used as a fragrance in cosmetics.
Concern: Endocrine disruptors. Can cause male infertility, damages to the reproductive and hormone systems. Absorbed quickly by children. Increase cancer risk in males.
Found in: Shampoos, bubble baths, soaps, nail polish, hair spray, toys, food packaging, rain coats, detergents, shower curtains.
How to identify it: Anything listed as “fragrance”, BBP, DEHP, dibutyl, diethylhexyl.
2. Paraben (Methyl, Propyl, Buthyl, Ethyl)
Fragrance ingredient. Preservatives in most cosmetics and personal care products.
Concern: Hormone disruptors. They accumulate in breast cancer tissue. Damages to the reproductive and hormone systems.
Found in: Any water-based formulas–shampoos, lotions, make up, gels.
How to identify it: Look for the suffix “-paraben” or “-ester”. Also look for benzoic acid, fragrance, potassium salt.
3. PEGs (Polyethylene Glycol)
Chemicals often used as cleansing agents, emulsifier and skin conditioners.
Concern: Increased risk for cancer (breast, uterine, brain, leukemia). Often contaminated with 1, 4-dioxane, lead and arsenic. PEG open the pores on the skin enabling toxins to easily enter the body.
Found in: Oral pain relief, tooth paste, personal lubricant/spermicide, sunscreen, makeup, hair mouse, deodorants, shampoo, soaps and lotions.
How to identify it: Listed as polyethylene glycol or anything starting with PEG. Sometimes the acronym is accompanied by a number for example, PEG-7. The lower the number the likely it is absorbed by the skin.
4. Sodium Lauryl or Laureth Sulfate (SLS)
Foaming and thickening agents.
Concern: Skin irritant. Absorbed through the skin and retained in the heart, liver and brain for long periods of time. Coughing, headaches, nausea, vomiting.
Found in: Most shampoos and toothpaste.
How to identify it: Sodium laurel/lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate.
5. 1, 4-Dioxane
Byproduct that occurs after using a process called ethoxylation. A carcinogen and neurotoxicant.
Found in: Most shampoos, body washes, lotions and toothpaste. In a study done by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, 32 out of 48 children’s products were positive for 1, 4-Dioxane. Even found in some “natural” and “organic” products.
How to identify it: The thing is, you won’t see it listed on the ingredients. Look for PEG, or PEG accompanied by a number, the suffix “eth” like laureth sulfate or ceteareth-20.
6. Urea, DMDM hydantoin, Quaternium-15, Bronopol and Tetrasodium EDTA
After parabens, these are the most commonly used preservatives. the concern with these is they may release or breakdown into formaldehyde and nitrosamine, both known to be carcinogens, and can affect the hormone and reproductive systems.
Found in: Shampoos, lotions and potentially any personal and beauty products. A study done by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, 82% of children’s products were positive for formaldehyde. Quaternium-15 is found in those “gentle” and “sensitive skin” baby washes.
How to identify it: Look for any of these ingredients; Urea, DMDM hydantoin, Quaternium-15, Bronopol and Tetrasodium EDTA.
It is a preservative and an antibacterial agent. The EPA classifies it as probable human carcinogen. When mixed with chlorine (like that in tap water) can create dioxins and chloroform, both known to be carcinogens. It is an endocrine disruptor, affecting the thyroid functions and hormonal and reproductive systems. It bioaccumulates, it is why it’s been found in blood and breast milk, it is absorbed by nursing babies. It can cause bacteria to be resistant, creating “super bugs.”
Found in: Household cleaners, soaps, body washes, hand sanitizers, mouthwash, just to name a few.
How to identify it: Triclosan, microban. According to the EWG it has about 10 different synonyms, when in doubt just avoid anything listed as “antibacterial”.
Fragrance ingredient, solvent. It is a human nervous toxicant, it oxidizes in cosmetics to formaldehyde. Be aware that products containing methanol can be marketed as “free of preservative.”
Found in: Conventional bath products.
How to identify it: Methanol or methyl alcohol.
9. Petrolatum (petrolium jelly and mineral oils)
Derived from crude oil, used as emollient in many personal care products for it’s low cost. It crates a barrier blocking the pores in the skin preventing it from eliminating toxins and exacerbating dry skin and acne, ironically it is sold and used to help the skin conditions it causes. Petrolatum in itself is not so harmful, it’s the impurities (1, 4-dioxane, coal tar) that are the concern, A study done by UCLA links high levels of exposure to mortality, lung cancer and melanoma.
Found in: Lipstick, baby lotion, baby oil, diaper rash creams, lotions.
How to identify it: Petrolatum, mineral jelly, petroleum wax, petroleum jelly.
10. Benzyl Alcohol
An aromatic alcohol used as a preservative. It is a neurotoxin and a skin irritant. It can also act as an external analgesic.
Found in: Shampoos, baby lotions, baby wipes, perfumes, hair color, lip gloss, head lice treatments.
How to identify it: Benzyl Alcohol, phenylcarbinol, benzenemethanol.
Steph’s safety guidelines
- Always, always, always read the labels.
- If the ingredient list is a way too long and with names, you can’t pronounce, skip it.
- Don’t trust the terms “natural”, “clinically tested”, “paediatrician recommended”, “gentle” even “organic.” Always read the labels
- Stop using anything labelled as “antibacterial. Warm water and soap are all you need. And for the love of all that is holy, please stop using those sanitizer gels, especially the ones with fragrances, they’re nothing but synthetic scents, a double whammy.
- Check trusted resources like the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. Where you can search by ingredient or brand and or product.
- Try reducing the number of beauty products. Instead search for one that can be more versatile, for example, coconut oil. I use it as a face/body moisturizer, deep moisturizer hair treatment, deodorant, diaper rash cream, eczema treatment…to name a few!
- Lastly, always, always, always, read the labels.